Hello Planeteers! That’s what I’m calling you now, deal with it. This week I’m coming to you from Austin, Texas home of the annual Fantastic Fest. For those of you that don’t know, Fantastic Fest is a huge genre film festival (the biggest in the U.S. per their website) hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse. The weeklong festival promises tons of crazy movies, events, and all sorts of fun. And I’m here to bring everything I can to you fine people at home.
I should note that while yesterday was my first day at the festival it has technically been going on since last Thursday (Sept. 24). This is what happens when you hesitate on buying tickets and only manage to get a “2nd Half” badge. But no matter! I still have access to all the amazing movies and events for the remainder of the week and I will do my best to share my experiences with you.
So here we go!
I woke up bright and early Monday morning and made my drive down to Austin. The first film doesn’t start till around 11, but I wanted to make sure I had time to check into my hotel, pick up my badge, and get something to eat before the whole thing got started. Much to my surprise, the badge pickup was simple, uncrowded, and quick. So I accomplished everything I wanted to do by 10 o’clock and then sat around for an hour waiting.
I used this time to re-familiarize myself with my movie schedule for the day. Which leads me into a brief explanation of how this festival works. There are 5 different movie slot times (11, 2, 5, 9 & Midnight) and anywhere from 3-5 movies playing during each slot. The day prior, badgeholders make preferences on which movies they would like to see during each slot time and the system will automatically assign them a film and theater after the selection process has been closed. After this you can swap tickets to another show (if there are open seats) or give up your ticket if your plans change. It’s an incredibly simple and easy system that basically eliminates lines. I haven’t always gotten my first choice of film (RIP me seeing Green Room), but that happens at every festival.
Ok enough of that, let’s talk movies!
The first film I saw was the horror movie February, directed by Osgood Perkins. February tells the story of an all girl’s boarding school in the North East that’s about to go on break for a week in February. The main character Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is waiting for her parents to arrive to take her home. When they no-show, Kat is left at the boarding school with two nuns and another student, Rose (Lucy Boynton). Strange things start to happen because this is a horror film. But to call February a standard horror movie would be a bit of a misnomer. While it’s true that it has a very standard horror film story (which I won’t spoil), it’s the structure that makes the film interesting. The film has multiple disjointed scenes involving different characters that appear to not relate in any way. But as information is slowly and methodically fed to you things start to come together. It shows the meticulous craft of the narrative. The movie is also tense as hell. Painfully slow camera pans that reminded me of some of the work from It Follows, ratchet up tension expertly. The boarding school is cold and isolated, even when filled with people, and the film makes you feel this throughout. While not the best horror film I’ve seen in recent memory, I appreciated the craft of February.
Up next was a South Korean film, The Treacherous, a historical film about a crazy 16th century Korean King who demanded that over 10,000 women from across his kingdom be brought before him to compete for the rights to be his consort. Part history, part exploitation cinema, part love story The Treacherous is like nothing I’ve seen before. There’s a 45 minute section in the middle of the film that is literally a sex training montage. The presenter anounced it as having “sex, violence, sexy violence, violent sex and everything in between…and he was spot on. But at the same time The Treacherous is a beautifully shot and wonderfully acted movie. Unfortunately, it’s also about 30 minutes too long.
My third film of the day was Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise. Wheatley is well known at Fantastic Fest, having his previous three film efforts shown during earlier festivals. I sadly had never seen one of his films until today, a mistake that I will now correct as soon as possible. High-Rise is, for lack of a better word, fantastic. A hilariously insane romp that also manages to be an incisive criticism of all levels of a capitalistic society. It’s the type of movie that I’ll need to see over and over again to fully appreciate, but won’t have a problem doing so. Wheatley shows that he’s an expert of the craft, both behind the camera and with the quick, tight editing that pulls everything together. I’m hesitant to talk more about High-Rise, as it’s a film you need to experience with as little background as possible. But I can promise you you’ll see lead actor Tom Hiddleston with new eyes. You also see his butt. So there’s that.
Last but not least was a Norwegian disaster film, The Wave. Despite being in the Norwegian language, The Wave was just about everything you’d expect from a typical Hollywood disaster film. The brilliant scientist, on the last day of his job, who predicts the disaster. The stubborn boss who refuses to listen to the warnings. The dramatic attempts to save the wife and kids. The Wave checks literally every single disaster movie box. So much so that when the subtitles broke for about 20 minutes in the middle of our screening, it didn’t really matter. The audience was able to catch on to everything that was happening. This isn’t to say that The Wave wasn’t a good movie. It actually was better than any disaster film Hollywood has put out recently. After all, there is a reason these standard tropes are used so often: they work. The Wave is a hell of a ride.
After my final movie I stumbled into the bar area of the Drafthouse and got to witness the greatest (and coincidentally only) Nerd Rap contest I’d ever seen. One by one, people climbed onto the stage to rap about nerdy things. The highlight of the contest was when a girl got up and rapped about striking back at the bully who used to torture her back in school. I won’t repeat some of the lines, as I don’t want to offend sensitive eyes, but it was amazing. I had another film scheduled at midnight, but as I didn’t get into the Fantastic Feud trivia contest show I wanted to, I decided to call it a night.
Tomorrow! Read all about my day 2, which includes 5 movies that I am all ridiculously excited for. FANTASTIC FEST!!!!!